Erase Ugly Scratches from Your Wood Floors

By: Jane Hoback Published: January 14, 2011 Repair wood floors and scratches that make rooms look worn out. We’ll show you easy ways to put the luster back into your floors. Camouflage scratches Take some artistic license to hide minor scratches in wood floors by rubbing on stain-matching crayons and Sharpie pens. Wax sticks, such as Minwax Stain Markers, are great scratch busters because they include stain and urethane, which protects the floor’s finish. Don’t be afraid to mix a couple of colors together to get a good match. And don’t sweat if the color is a little off. Real hardwoods mix several hues and tones. So long as you cover the contrasting “white” scratches, color imperfections will match perfectly. Homemade polish Mix equal parts olive oil and vinegar, which work together to remove dirt, moisturize, and shine wood. Pour a little directly onto the scratch. Let the polish soak in for 24 hours, then wipe off. Repeat until the scratch disappears. Spot-sand deep scratches It takes time to repair wood gouges: Sand, fill, sand again, stain, and seal. Here are some tips to make the job go faster. Sand with fine-gauge steel wool or lightweight sandpaper. Always sand with the grain. Use wood filler, which takes stain better than wood putty. Use a plastic putty knife to avoid more scratches. Seal the area with polyurethane, or whatever product was used on the floor originally. Apply the polyurethane coat with a lambs wool applicator, which avoids air bubbles in the finish. Fix gaps in floor Old floorboards can separate over time. Fill the gaps with colored wood putty. Or, if you have some leftover...

Budget Kitchen Remodeling: 5 Money-Saving Steps

By: Gretchen Roberts Published: January 19, 2012 Can’t afford an entire kitchen remodel in one fell swoop? You can complete the work in 5 budget-saving stages (and still cook dinner during the down time). Stage one: Start with a complete design plan  Your plan should be comprehensive and detailed — everything from the location of the refrigerator to which direction the cabinet doors will open to whether you need a spice drawer. To save time (and money) during tear-out and construction, plan on using your existing walls and kitchen configuration. That’ll keep plumbing and electrical systems mostly intact, and you won’t have the added expense — and mess — of tearing out walls. Joseph Feinberg, vice president of Allied Kitchen and Bath in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., recommends hiring a professional designer, such as an architect or a certified kitchen designer, who can make sure the details of your plans are complete. You’ll pay about 10% of the total project for a pro designer, but you’ll save a whole bunch of headaches that would likely cost as much — or more — to fix. Plus, a pro is likely to offer smart solutions you hadn’t thought of. For a nominal fee, you also can get design help from a major home improvement store. However, you’ll be expected to purchase some of your cabinets and appliances from that store. Cost: professional designer: $5,800 (10% of total) Key strategies: Once your plans are set, you can hold onto them until you’re ready to remodel. Time frame: 3-6 months Read on to learn more budget kitchen remodeling tips: Stage two: Order the cabinets, appliances, and lighting fixtures Stage three: Gut...

5 Things You Forgot to Clean in Your Bathroom

By: Lisa Kaplan Gordon Published: March 30, 2012 Your bathroom, one of the rooms you clean most, hides areas that rarely see a scrub brush. It’s time to tackle these 5 nasty spots you probably forgot. But we presume you or someone else regularly swishes out the toilets, wipes out the tubs and sinks, and mops your bathroom flooring. But you may be missing some critical areas. With the help of Kristi Mailloux, president ofMolly Maid, we’ve compiled a list of 5 bathroom spots home owners often forget to clean: 1. Showerheads: A warm white vinegar bath will get rid of mineral deposits, making yourlow-flow shower head flow even lower. Let the showerhead soak for about 20 minutes, then poke a paperclip into shower head holes still clogged. Scrub with an old toothbrush, then rinse and repeat if necessary. 2. Toilet bases: Mildew can grow on the caulking around the base of your toilet. Spray with white vinegar or disinfecting household cleaner, then scrub with a hard-bristled brush. Dry thoroughly. 3. Shower curtains: Clean soap scum and mildew from plastic shower curtains by tossing them into your washer on the gentle and cold (never hot!) water cycle, with detergent and ½ cup vinegar. If mildew is present, add ½ cup of bleach instead of vinegar. Toss a couple of large towels into the machine to act as scrubbers. Hang curtains back on your shower curtain rod, spread them out, and let them drip-dry. If you turn on the bathroom fan, they’ll dry faster. 4. Drains: We don’t usually pay much attention to drains until they’re clogged. But all year your hair, toothpaste, shampoo, and conditioner are building up in sink...

Air Conditioning Equipment: Repair or Replace?

By: Oliver Marks Published: December 4, 2009 If you’re deciding whether to repair or replace central air conditioning equipment, assess the quality of your house’s ductwork and insulation first. If your air conditioner is more than eight years old, repair is probably not worth the expense, unless it’s a simple problem like debris clogging the condenser unit or a worn fan belt. Still, to best weigh your repair-or-replace decision, ask your contractor to assess not just the condition of your existing equipment, but also the ducts that deliver the cool air and the overall quality of the insulation in your house. Improving those elements might increase the effectiveness of the system as much or more than installing new machinery. Assess the efficiency of your current system Even if your central air conditioner is just eight to 10 years old, it could suck up to twice the electricity that even a low-end new one would use. That’s because it operates at or below 10 SEER, or Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio, which is the amount of energy needed to provide a specific cooling output. Until 2006, 10 SEER was standard, but these days, the minimum allowed by federal law is 13 SEER. That translates to 30% less electrical consumption and 30% lower cooling bills than equipment installed just a few years ago. For an 1,800 square foot house, a new 13 SEER unit will cost $3,000 to $4,000. You can double your energy savings by jumping up to 16 SEER, which will reduce cooling expenses by 60% over a 10 SEER unit. At $5,000 to $6,000, these super-efficient units are more expensive,...

Whole-House Fans: Maximum Cool, Minimum Cost

By: Laura Fisher Kaiser Published: January 28, 2011 A whole-house fan is a simple and inexpensive method of cooling a house. Maximum cooling from your whole-house fan Whenever the outside temperature drops below inside temps, open some screened windows and flip on the fan to pull cool, dry air through the house and exhaust hot airthrough your roof vents. For a morning “pre-cool,” run your whole-house fan just before sunrise, then close the windows to seal in the cool air as the day warms up. In the evening when outside temps dip, turn on your fan to cool off the house, which takes about 20 minutes for a 2,500 sq. ft. house. In general, whole-house fans are more effective in multi-story homes than single-level. Also, certain regions of the country have better potential for whole-house fan cooling than others. Design options for whole-house fans Ceiling-mounted whole-house fans are the most popular. Installed in the attic between the ceiling and living space, they move large amounts of air. Ducted whole-house fans are quieter because they are mounted in the attic, away from living space. Flexible ductwork runs from low-key room grilles to the fan. The air can be vented directly out of the house, rather than through attic vents. Variable speeds let you flush air quickly through the house at high speed or create a continuous, gentle air flow at low speed. Programmable thermostats and temperature controls add convenience, but make sure your house is prepared: Heating and cooling are turned off. No fire in the fireplace (so flames don’t get sucked out into the house). Windows are open (without enough ventilation from open windows, the...

It’s Gonna Cost You More to Recharge Your Air Conditioning

By: Dona DeZube Published: March 20, 2012 The cost to recharge your air conditioning is going up, up, up. Here’s why: Recharging your air conditioning system can really empty your wallet this spring and summer if you have a unit that’s more than two years old. The refrigerant that older air conditioning units use, R-22, is being phased out, and with less R-22 to go around, prices have spiked. If your AC unit was manufactured in 2011 or later, it uses a different refrigerant, R-410A. Lucky you. Last spring, R-22 was $180 for a tank about the size of a propane BBQ tank. This spring, the same tank cost me $400 wholesale here in Baltimore. The tank has enough R-22 to recharge a bunch of AC units, so if your AC guy tells you he needed a whole tank of R-22 to recharge your one AC unit, it’s time for either a new AC or a new AC repair guy. The EPA is phasing out R-22 between now and 2030, limiting its production every year. When R-22 leaks out into the atmosphere, it eats a hole in the earth’s ozone layer. Limited supplies of new R-22 equal rising prices, so expect the cost of recharging a leaking AC to continue going up, rather than down, until you replace your current system with one that uses R-410A. The shortage of R-22 may be bad news for your wallet, but it’s good news for the environment, because the higher the price of R-22 goes, the more worthwhile it is for an AC repair person removing an old unit to capture and...